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The EU – A brief guide

Extracted from


where you can also find a brief history and a glossary of terms used in the EU.

The European Union, which succeeded the European Community, was established by the EU Treaties.

The parties to the treaties are the Member States of the EU.

Under the treaties the Member States confer competences on the EU – such as the power to adopt legislation. The EU can only act within the limits of its competences.

The EU has a number of institutions, such as the European Council, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament. Acting together or separately, these institutions pass laws (such as regulations, directives or decisions), which may take effect automatically in the UK’s legal systems or require the UK to pass national legislation to give effect to the EU laws.

The UK may also be affected by the treaties themselves, which may restrict what the UK can do, for example, restricting the UK’s power to limit imports from other Member States.

The Court of Justice of the European Union interprets the treaties and the laws which the EU passes and decides if Member States have abided by them.

There are two key EU treaties, which have been amended several times.

They are the Treaty on the European Union (‘TEU’, originally the Maastricht Treaty), and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’, originally called the Treaty of Rome). The treaties are effective in the UK by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972, as amended.

The full text of the Maastricht Treaty can be found on the EU web-site at


The European Economic Community was established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome, and became the European Community (EC) in 1967. The Treaty of Rome gave the Community a number of tasks including establishing a common market and progressively approximating the economic policies of the Member States. The United Kingdom joined the Community in 1973, and confirmed that decision in a UK-wide referendum in 1975.

In 1986, the Single European Act made further provision for the establishment of the common market, now referred to as the ‘internal market’, and defined as an area without internal frontiers, in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured. The Single Market Act also added a number of new policy areas to the Community’s competence, including, for example, a specific environmental competence. The Maastricht Treaty followed in 1993. This treaty established the European Union, which had a three pillar structure, with the European Community being the first pillar, the common foreign and security policy the second pillar and justice and home affairs (covering immigration and asylum, civil judicial cooperation and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) the third pillar. Further changes were made by the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) and the Treaty of Nice (2000), including to the competences of the Union.

The EU entered a period of expansion, reaching 28 Member States by 2013. This prompted calls for a new Treaty. After long discussion, the Lisbon treaty was signed in 2007. This treaty renamed and amended the original treaties, collapsed the three pillar system into a single European Union, and incorporated the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the EU Treaties.

EU Trade with non-EU countries (2015)

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The EU trades with most countries in the world and this is worth a total of 3,513,929 Million Euro (3.5 Trillion), based on figures for 2015.

The following breakdown shows the value of the trade between the EU non-EU countries. It does not include the figures for internal trade between the 28 EU countries.

The top 10 trading partners accounted for 62.96% of the total EU trade.

2 of the top 10 countries that the EU trades with are Norway and Switzerland with a total value of € 376 Billion or 10.7% of the total trade

Total EU Trade Table

Figure 1 – Total EU Trade with non-EU countries (table)

Total EU Trade Chart

Figure 2 – Total Trade with non-EU countries (chart)

Exploring these figures further shows that Imports to the EU from non-EU countries totalled 1,724,867 Million Euro (1.7 Trillion Euro). The top 10 trading partners accounted for 66.23% of the total and goods totalling € 176 Billion Euro, or 10.24% of the total goods imported came from Norway and Switzerland.

EU Imports Table

Figure 3 – Total Imports to the EU from non-EU countries (table)

EU Imports Chart

Figure 4 – Total Imports to the EU from non-EU countries (chart)

Exports from the EU to non-EU countries totalled €1,789,063 Million Euro (€1.8 Trillion Euro). The top 10 trading partners accounted for 66.23% of the total and goods totalling almost €200 Billion Euro, or 11.16% of the total were exported to Norway and Switzerland

EU Exports Table

Figure 5 – Total Exports from the EU to non-EU countries (table)

EU Exports Chart

Figure 6 – Total Exports from the EU to non-EU countries (chart)






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The creation of a single European economic area based on a Common Market was a fundamental objective of the Treaty of Rome.

Today, the EU is the largest economy in the world. It is the worlds biggest exporter of manufactured goods and has the worlds largest single market area of more than 500 million consumers.

The EU is responsible for the trade policy of its member countries and negotiates trade agreements, based on World Trade Organisation rules, on their behalf. This means that no individual member government can negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with a non-EU partner.

UK/EU Trading Feb 2016

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The UK has strong trading links with countries in the EU. This makes the EU an important market for the UK and also makes the UK an important market for the EU.

I’ve used the latest Overseas Trade Statistics from February 2016 as a snapshot to understand the UKs trading position with the EU. These statistics show that the UK is a net importer of goods from the EU.

In February 2016, the UK exported goods to the EU worth £11.2bn and imported goods from the EU worth £19.4bn .

Overall, in February 2016, trade with Europe accounts for 46% of exports from the UK and 55% of the imports to the UK.

What is also apparent is that UK Trade exports are almost evenly split between the EU (46%) and non-EU countries (54%)

These monthly figures are within the ranges recorded over the last 18 months where the proportion of exports from the UK to the EU has been within the range from 38% to 48% and that of imports from the EU to the UK within the range from 51% to 55%

source: https://www.uktradeinfo.com a website managed by the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Trade Statistics unit

Overseas Trade Statistics

According to recent (provisional) figures from UKTradeInfo , a website managed by HM Revenue & Customs, the value of exports from the UK in February 2016 was £24.1 billion with imports of £35.2 billion resulting in the UK being a net importer of goods to the value of £11.1 billion.


These figures can be split between EU and non-EU countries

non-EU exports £12.9 billion
non-EU imports £15.8 billion

which indicates the UK to be a net importer of goods from non-EU countries with imports exceeding exports by £2.9 billion

EU exports £11.2 billion
EU imports £19.4 billion

which indicates the UK to be a net importer of goods from the EU with imports exceeding exports by £8.2 billion

The figures also show that in February 2016, the proportion of exports to the EU was %46 (54% non-EU), with imports of 55% (45% non-EU).

Other figures from the HM Revenue and Customs web-site indicate that over the last 18 months the proportion of exports to the EU has been within the range from 38% to 48% and that of imports within the range from 51% to 55%

Top 5 Partners trading with the UK (Feb 2016)
Exports from the UK
  1. USA £3.5bn
  2. Germany £2.8bn
  3. France £1.5bn
  4. Netherlands £1.3bn
  5. Republic of Ireland £1.3bn
Imports to the UK
  1. Germany £5.3bn
  2. China £2.9bn
  3. USA £2.9bn
  4. Netherlands £2.9bn
  5. France £2.3bn

A summary of the UK Overseas Trade Statistic (OTS) for Febrary 2016 is available at


There also breakdowns of the actual goods being imported and exported available from the page


Quick Facts about the EU

Where can I find statistics about the EU?


How many languages are used in the EU?

The EU has 24 official languages.

Where does the EU hold its meetings?

The European Commission is mainly based in Brussels and Luxembourg.

The European Parliament holds its Committee meetings in Brussels and its plenary sessions in Brussels and Strasbourg. Administration is located in Luxembourg.

The Council buildings are in Brussels, where most of its meetings also take place. Occasionally meetings of the Council of the European Union are held in Luxembourg. Meetings between the heads of state and governments – the European Council – take place in Brussels.

How many people are employed by the EU?

There are 55,000 civil servants employed by the EU.

What are the EU Administration costs?

The EU spends around 6% of its annual budget on staff, administration and maintenance of its buildings.

What is the total population of the EU?

The total population of all 28 countries in the EU, on 1st January 2015 was 508,450,856

(Figures from Eurostat)

What is Europe Day?

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister at the time, gave a memorable speech making the case for a new model of political and economic cooperation for Europe. Each year, the EU institutions celebrate this by organising activities on or near 9th May, the anniversary date of the Schuman Declaration.

What are the EU Treaties

The EU treaties are binding agreements between EU member countries. They set out EU objectives, rules for EU institutions, how decisions are made and the relationship between the EU and its member countries. Every action taken by the EU is founded on treaties.

Treaties are amended to make the EU more efficient and transparent, prepare for new member countries and introduce new areas of cooperation.

Copies of the treaties can be viewed online at


and a copy of the consolidated treaties (pdf) can be downloaded from